Roti Republic: From chapati to naan, to the Goan poi, India is a smorgasbord of the staff of life


Bread is said to be the staff of life. And, by that token, the Indian thali is very well-staffed indeed. In Hindustani, roti is the generic term for all kinds of bread, and India plays host to an encyclopedic variety of roti recipes.

The most common of all rotis is the ubiquitous chapati, the clandestine distribution of which is said to have presaged the 1857 War of Independence.

With a few tweaks, the chapati transforms into several avatars, such as the crisp Gujarati and Kutchi khakra which, properly stored, remains edible for days and was a life-saving staple for vegetarian travellers to foreign shores who carried plentiful stocks of these in the days when shakahari fare was as much a rarity in outlandish regions as an eight-day week.

With the addition of a few spices and a touch of oil, the khakra can become a supple thepla, which also has a venerable shelf life.

As a child, my favourite was the puran puri, or puran poli, as it’s called in Maharashtra, a roti stuffed with sweetened, mashed daal, and served piping hot with lashings of ghee on top.

That a puran puri, or poli, tastes just as sweet by any other name is witnessed by the fact that in the south it’s called obbattu, bobbattlu and bakshamulu.

Pan fried, the chapati becomes a paratha, enveloping a variety of stuffings, veggie and non-veggie. Vying for the title of Prince of Parathas are Kolkata’s Mughlai paratha, which requires the constitution of an army mule to digest, and Kerala’s Malabari paratha.

Deep fried, chapatis become puris, or maida luchis, a mega version being Bengal’s Radhaballabhi, which approximates the size and shape of a football and needs an ace soccer player’s appetite to tackle.

Leavened, chapatis morph into naans, the best being the Roghni naan in Kolkata’s Amber restaurant, the khameeri roti, the speciality of Old Delhi’s Karim’s, and the poi, pao, and, my favourite, the undo made by Goan poders, or bakers.

Factory-made, sliced white bread is a metaphor for monocultural societies. Our Republic of many handmade rotis is edible proof of the diversity to which we are born and bread.


This article is intended to bring a smile to your face. Any connection to events and characters in real life is coincidental.


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